The latest episode of our podcast represents the start of a new series focusing on coaching. We start with the very essential question: what is coaching? In the past, I shared various academic definitions of coaching and the coaching relationship. But these days, I tend to describe it as the process of getting unstuck.
What does that mean?
Essentially, this is about identifying patterns of thought and behaviour that simply don’t work for the coachee, but ones they’ve found difficult to shake until now. Unhealthy responses to pressure. Failure to speak up. An inability to say ‘no’.
When we’re ‘stuck’, we do the same things over and over again, despite not getting the results we’re looking for. These patterns of behaviour can have an impact on our wellbeing, our relationships and our effectiveness in the workplace. So, getting out of ‘stuck’ is often an overriding goal of the coaching relationship.
What does ‘stuck’ look like?
Consider the manager who won’t delegate, because they’re worried their team members won’t do as good a job as them. They keeping trying to ‘do it all’ and as a result, find themselves overwhelmed and unable to keep on top of their responsibilities. Their concerns about other’s quality of work keep them stuck in the same unhelpful pattern.
Similarly, the person who keeps procrastinating about important client deliverables, meaning they end up experiencing intense pressure close to the deadline, and find themselves over-extended and exhausted. Their beliefs about the ‘awfulness’ of the task prevent them from being proactive. So they keep falling into a cycle of worry and panic.
Or what about the brand new graduate who can’t bear to pick up the phone to ask questions and get some clarity on their responsibilities? In focusing on the need to avoid looking ‘foolish’, they leave themselves open to ongoing anxiety about their performance.
Is that working for you?
It’s important to avoid beating ourselves up when we notice these kinds of patterns in our thoughts and actions. For a start, noticing them is excellent and looking for support to make a change is to be applauded.
A common starting point in a coaching conversation is to explore the ‘workability’ of the coachee’s responses. This helps us avoid discussions of good or bad, or right and wrong. Instead, we explore – in the context of the coachee’s experience – how helpful their behaviour is. A focus on helpfulness helps avoid additional self-criticism and opens the possibility of making some valuable changes.
As we discuss in episode 90 of the podcast, coaching implies change, which can be strange and uncomfortable. The discomfort of trying new things, of stepping out of our familiar patterns of behaviour, is key to coaching. But instead of a focus on minimising or avoiding discomfort – which can be the root cause of these unhelpful responses – we focus on identifying and trying more helpful approaches. The discomfort is along for the ride, but no longer the main focus.
There’s no silver bullet or one-size-fits-all solution. But experimenting with new approaches – with the support of a coach – can help you cultivate some more helpful responses to the ‘stuff’ that’s going on in your life.
A final question for you
If you’re considering coaching, have a think about the topic you want to work on and consider your beliefs and behaviours. What is it you continue to do, even though it’s not getting you the results you want? What could getting unstuck look like for you?